After 35 years my friend and colleague, Nancy Hawkins is retiring at the end of this year from the Louisiana Division of Archaeology in Baton Rouge. Her final job responsibilities included Outreach, the Regional & Station Archaeology, Archaeology Month, Teacher Assistance and more. Nancy played a major role or was completely responsible for many of the highly successful projects carried out by the Division over the past three decades. These projects include The Indian Mounds of Northeast Louisiana Trail Guide, many of educational programs and publications by the Division, and most recently the successful nomination of the Poverty Point site as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And there is a bunch more.
I first met Nancy in the winter of 1995 when I applied for the position of Station Archaeologist at the Poverty Point site. I don’t remember much of the interview process. I do remember riding with Nancy on the four-hour trip from Baton Rouge to Epps, Louisiana. I do remember how exciting I was to be considered for this position. I had visited Poverty Point four years before on a graduate student field trip, stood in the plaza and said “If I could get a job working here it would be like dying and going to heaven.” I got the job in 1996.
From 1996 to 2003 I was the Station Archaeologist. Over that period, I learned much from Nancy that helped guide my career for the next twenty years. Those lessons were not always easy, but critical for any success I was able to have. Here is some of what I learned from Nancy:
- Appreciate the big picture. In Nancy’s capacity of coordinating the entire Station and Regional Archaeology Program along with countless other activities and events, she always was as mindful of the whole as the individual parts. These lessons served me well in my later career when I juggled the interests of multiple individuals to build a central institutional mission.
- When I worked as the Station Archaeologist at Poverty Point, I absolutely loathed the Annual Reports we wrote that Nancy reviewed. I saw this task as the equivalent of writing a new PhD dissertation every year – and in many ways it was. But I joked with Nancy several years later when I was hired into a position where the organization had been on the decline for a several years, that annual reports and annual actions plans were the absolute key to keeping us on track to resurrect that institution. It was through Nancy’s thoroughness in reviewing and administering these reports that I learned to show an accountability in what we were charged to carry out as public stewards of cultural heritage.
- I have came to appreciate a thoroughness in working with Nancy on multiple projects over the years. I readily admit that when I began my tenure at Poverty Point, I was very much like a kid in the candy store with possibilities. I could zip from one project to another, trying to juggle too many balls in the air. I recollect well my irritation when I would send a new project I was particularly pleased with for Nancy’s review, and she might note that, yes it looked good, but the images could be more sharply focused, and the text could benefit from some reworking – and she was right. When I came to oversee the production of exhibits later as museum director or in applied student projects, I employed the same thoroughness and attention to detail – many times I suspect equally irritating the others, but providing them the same opportunity to learn.
- Nancy exhibited tremendous insights during her tenure the with the Division of Archaeology. Her vision for the Mounds Commission, the Louisiana Mounds Trail, and Poverty Point as a World Historic Site were absolutely instrumental to their becoming a reality. In that capacity Nancy demonstrated tremendous patience and commitment to seeing those projects through, despite the obstacles that regularly surfaced. This lesson has been absolutely key to my practice.
- Perhaps one of the greatest lessons I have learned from Nancy was watching her facilitate the many projects she successfully shepherded through during her tenure. Nancy masterfully could take just a little, find other resources and individuals with a common interest, get them working together, to produce a final product for which her name often appeared only as a footnote, but could clearly could not have occurred without her facilitation. Over the past 10 years, this lesson from Nancy proved a guiding focus of how I came to operate in a several capacities.
This list could go on. I enjoyed that Nancy could always ask tough questions, and still does for which I have no good answer – but force me to think. The one nagging question she repeated to me during a meeting just a couple of weeks ago – How are we able to evaluate the value of the public archaeology programs we create?
The State of Louisiana and public archaeology in general are much better today for the 35 years of service by Nancy Hawkins. I would be remiss if I did not note how she was always supported by and functioned as part of a team effort. Although there were certainly other capable folks both before and after my tenure in Louisiana Archaeology, what I consider my own personal Glory Days benefited not just from Nancy’s work but also the vision of individuals such as Tom Eubanks, Duke Rivett, Rachel Watson and all of my colleagues in the Regional and Station Archaeology Program.
As I am now retired to New Orleans, and taking up the cause of Louisiana Archaeology again as I am able, I have commiserated with Nancy about the decimation of so much cultural heritage work that was built over the past decades. I believe the decimation is largely the result of misplaced priorities and the short-sighted vision of many elected officials. There is no reason to be optimistic about the immediate future for cultural heritage resources in Louisiana or anywhere in the U.S. for that matter. We will need to take the best of old models and adapt them to a new set of realities. Without question the work by Nancy Hawkins and her colleagues over the past 35 years laid a solid foundation on which that future can be built.